I start most tournaments playing pretty tight and it always seems that of the starting 10 players, at least 2 or 3 are really loose. Just sit back and study – take note of what hands players are considering bet-worthy hands and within the first 10 hands you should know who’s loose and who’s not. Look to catch one of these loose players holding a bad hand – it’s an easy mark which will result in a solid chip lead. Don’t force it – don’t chase cards – be patient and wait for the right hand. When you do have the right hand, bet humbly. You’ve been shy so far, and your fish has been aggressive. Chances are he’ll try to push you around a bit – ponder his calls – and humbly call. Just call his raises – if you are absolutely sure you have the hand – re-raise on 5th street – but again, I personally don’t believe in being overly aggressive at this stage. Once you catch your fish – you should have a comfortable stack of chips and can move to phase II.
Even though I’ve got a decent stack of chips at this stage, I still play fairly tight. I may chase some hands, but I never bluff and try my best not to go on tilt and make wild bets. Remember, in a tournament you need to be thinking survival as well as conquer. If you’ve got 2 or more players betting really aggressively on a hand – and you are not totally confident – fold and let them duke it out. Even though you did not win anything on that hand – if a player gets knocked out and it’s not you – then you are one step closer to finishing in the money.
As players get knocked out – your blinds will also be raised, which means you do have to winning some pots or you will eventually go broke on blinds. Even still – don’t rush. Wait for good cards and spend your folded time studying how the remaining opponents are adjusting. Some get looser, some get tighter. If you have remaining players with small stacks of chips, bully them a bit. A chip lead is a huge advantage in poker tournaments so use it. Don’t get wreck less – but put some betting pressure on them. Don’t do stupid things like throw more into a pot than they could even match – if a player has $168 in chips – bet $168. Don’t waste money.
Once you are down to your last 4 or 5 players you need to start getting a bit more aggressive. Fewer hands are being dealt, so fewer great hands are going to be showing up. You can start playing things like semi-solid pairs with a bit more confidence. Even still – don’t always look for the 1 punch knockouts. At the pot levels in this stage of the tournament, most any hand that’s not totally folded is going to really help one and hurt another. This is really the only stage of the tournament that I do much bluffing either – but stealing pots and blinds is critical.
Be wise – remember, its survive as much as it’s conquer. While another player cannot win chips for you – he or she certainly can eliminate other players for you – which is what the goal is. By this time you have muscled your way into the top 3 – which puts you in the money. Go for the Win – play your heart out – but at this stage, win or lose your real money deposit account has grown – not shrunk, and you’ve had a good hour or two of hard nosed texas hold’em.
I like to take winnings and invest them in entry fees into the larger tournaments like the PartyPoker million – but dammit I still have not placed better than 4th!